I’m re-reading the last ten books in the Honorverse space opera series by David Weber in true chronological order. That is to say, I am reading it all as if it were one big story, not several separate books, in the order in which the events described took place (as much as possible.) I will even be skipping around between books as necessary. If you’d like some insight into why I’m doing that, and what I recommend you read before we begin (if you’d like to follow along,) please see my other posts in this series:
Prerequisites: War of Honor, Crown of Slaves
Books Required for this Post: The Shadow of Saganami, At All Costs
The Kingdom of Manticore is once again at war with the Republic of Haven. Unbeknownst to the characters, but knownst to us, Havenite Secretary of State Arnold Giancola has altered diplomatic correspondence between the two star-nations to raise tensions between them in order to increase his own power base by undermining President Eloise Pritchart and her administration. He was aided and abetted by a contact within the elected right wing High Ridge government in Manticore who was manipulating events for her own reasons, encouraged by a third party. Neither nation really wants to fight, but they feel they have no choice.
In the meantime, systems in the Verge known as the Talbott Cluster, have petitioned for annexation by the Star Kingdom of Manticore, who recently discovered a major wormhole nexus, the Lynx Terminus, in their region of space– again as a consequence of the events on Torch. This is in part motivated by the lurking threat of the Office of Frontier Security (Solarian League,) which has a habit of gobbling up nearby systems into their vast empire and then exploiting them, always under the pretext of having been invited in to “help maintain order.” The Talbott Cluster systems believe that Manticore will be able to protect them from Frontier Security.
I remind you that my idea of the sequence of events at this point is probably, in part, inaccurate. I am making my best guess. If someone is out there who’s better at crunching the numbers than I am, and you can tell that I am in error, please let me know and I’ll make the changes.
I’m basing my estimation of the timeline on a few things:
- On the Honorverse Fandom Wiki, a chronological reading order of the books is posted. It tells me that:
- Torch of Freedom begins November 1919 PD;
- The Shadow of Saganami begins June 1920 PD;
- At All Costs begins July 1920 PD;
- The Shadow of Saganami ends July 1921 PD;
- At All Costs ends August 1921 PD;
- Storm from the Shadows begins December 1920 PD.
- On the same wiki, a loose chronology of events is posted. It gives me a series of significant events (though often without a lot of information) and at least the rough date at which they occur. Some of these events are retold in different points of view between books. Even when they aren’t, they are often referred to in other books, and have effects which reverberate through all books. They can be used as checkpoints to line up dates, and as cross-references.
- All other times are estimates based roughly on the speed of ship travel or on how long I think it would take to accomplish specific tasks. These are often not mentioned specifically, and therefore represent my best guess.
- Honor is assigned to command the Unconquered, the only ship in the Manticoran Navy that allows a flag officer to directly command her. In the meantime, she, her lover Hamish Alexander, Earl White Haven, and Hamish’s wife Emily, conspire to keep their relationship a secret, especially after the political fallout that came from the rumours of a relationship that didn’t exist yet under the High Ridge administration.
- Havenite Secretary of State Arnold Giancola plots with Colonel Jean-Claude Nesbitt to make it look like someone was trying to frame him for altering the diplomatic correspondence with Manticore, instead of trying to hide that he’d done it at all. They conspire to frame Yves Grosclaude, Giancola’s co-conspirator, for the frame job.
- The crew of the Hexapuma begin to work up for their deployment.
- Agnes Nordbrandt is starting a terrorist movement on the Talbott Cluster planet Kornati in opposition to the annexation. She meets with a man named Firebrand, who says he is coordinating movement to oppose the annexation on many planets in the Cluster, and he promises her modern Solarian weapons.
- The Havenites do an intel-gathering raid on the Zanzibar system. The Zanzibaran leaders decide to ignore Manticoran Navy advice and treat it like a serious attack. Their secret system defenses are revealed to the enemy as a result.
July (?) 1920 PD – At All Costs, Chapter 9 – The Battle of Zanzibar results in the defeat of the Havenite invasion force, but reveals most of the system’s defensive capabilities.
July (?) 1920 PD –The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 8 – The crew of the Hexapuma realizes they are going to have to deploy shorthanded. They decide to leave Abigail Hearns in place as tactical officer, despite the fact that she’s technically too junior to hold the position. Helen Zilwicki has an issue with her fellow snotty, Paul d’Arezzo, who is too good looking for his own good and who seems to have an air of superiority over his fellow Saganami graduates because he doesn’t talk to them much. They worry that they’ll have to deploy with yard dogs still working on their ship, and they worry as to whether or not Captain Terekhov’s PTSD is going to get the better of him. They make their wormhole transit and get underway to Talbott.
July 1920 PD – At All Costs, Chapter 10 – Eighth Fleet is formed. Honor invites her new flag officers, including old friends from previous books, like Alistair McKeon, Rafe Cardones and Andrea Jaruwalski, to discuss their mission. While they are designated as a “fleet,” that’s mostly to frighten Haven. They are more like a task force, and their job for the moment is to make offensive raiding strikes into Havenite systems and try to be in more places at once than they technically have the power to be in. However, they are, as Honor says, “something of a paper hexapuma at the moment.” They are intended to make Haven think that Manticore has more offensive capability than they actually do.
In the meantime, a persistent stomach upset convinces Honor to see her doctor. Hamish tries to convince his brother, the current Prime Minister, to get the Queen and President Pritchart of Haven talking again, because Manticore is screwed offensively, but the Queen is still angry about the altered diplomatic correspondence. And… at the end of the chapter, it turns out that there has been an error in Honor’s medical records from when she was believed to be dead on Hell. Her implant has failed, and she is pregnant. Dun dun DUUUUNNNNN!
To note: this last detail confirms that we are, indeed, in late July 1920 PD, for reasons which will become obvious later.
July 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 9 – Terekhov announces their assignment to Talbott to his squadron and stresses it’s more important than it seems in the face of the war with Haven because the future of the Star Kingdom may depend on it. The middies on their snotty cruise out of Saganami Island don’t buy it. The middies solidify their relationships. Helen Zilwicki shares what she can about what happened on Torch in Crown of Slaves (which is thin enough to be misleading.) After hearing that, and being aware of Talbott’s proximity to Mesa, the middies speculate their deployment might actually be more exciting than they thought.
July 1920 PD – At All Costs, Chapters 11, 12 & 13 – Honor tells her parents, then Hamish, then Emily that she is pregnant. They discuss strategies for how to deal with the fallout, in their careers and in the media. They determine to have the child tubed (placed in an artificial womb, an outpatient procedure) to keep the baby out of the path of war while Honor is actively deployed. They have the child tubed at the prestigious Briarwood Center under the care of Dr. Ilescue, who seems to have some kind of axe to grind against Honor. She declines to register the identity of the father for the time being.
July 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 10 – We are introduced to Stephen Westman of the planet Montana, who is launching an armed resistance movement to Manticoran Annexation of the Talbott Cluster. His first encounter with a Manticoran land surveyor is petty harassment only – they steal his stuff and set his party to marching back to civilization in their underwear. We are meant to like him. He is a rugged individualist who feels he has no choice but to launch a rebellion, but he clearly doesn’t want to bring physical harm to anyone if he doesn’t have to.
We are also introduced to Henri Krietzmann, Bernardus Van Dort, and Joachim Alquezar, leaders in the Talbott Cluster who are working towards a successful annexation. We learn that there is bad blood between Van Dort as former head of the Rembrandt Trade Union, which engaged in a ruthless economic policy in the Cluster in the past, primarily to keep Frontier Security out of the system, but this helped to increase economic disparity between the planets in the Cluster, and some have been poorly treated and exploited under the RTU. We also learn that Aleksandra Tonkovic of Kornati and Andrieaux Yvernau of New Tuscany are stalling the Constitutional Convention, in which the leaders of the Cluster suggest terms under which they will be annexed, by holding out for complete autonomy, which they aren’t going to get. Everyone else is ticked off about it, and the whole affair is threatened by their antics, which will open the door to Frontier Security.
July (?) to August (?) 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 11 – The Hexapuma arrives in Talbott. He and Admiral Khumalo meet. Everyone speculates about everyone else’s fitness for the job ahead of them. Khumalo tells Terekhov he basically has to be everywhere and doing everything at once; Terekhov agrees he will do his best.
July (?) to August (?) 1920 PD – At All Costs, Chapter 14 – Nesbitt sets up his trap. But Kevin Usher, Cachat’s former direct superior at StateSec, currently their Director of the Federal Investigative Agency, is already looking into it, and believes that Giancola is, indeed, guilty of doing just that. Grosclaude may possibly have also been on it, he thinks. He authorizes Special Senior Inspector Abrioux, who is better at computers and paper trails than he is, to conduct an illegal, off-the-books investigation to find out.
August (?) 1920 PD – The Shadow of Saganami, Chapter 12 – The senior officers of Terekhov’s squadron are introduced to Dame Estelle Matsuko, Baroness Medusa, the Queen’s Provisional Governor of Talbott, along with the rest of the major players in the Talbott leadership, including Samiha Lababibi, President of the Spindle System, a clear oligarch. The middies marvel at the wealth of her manor, while Lababibi tries to draw Terekhov into taking a side on the political issues dividing the Cluster. Most worry about the actions of the terrorists Nordbrandt and Westman, but Lababibi is dismissive. Baroness Medusa (another character we know from earlier in the series) tries to warn the leadership of the Cluster that Manticore will not screw around waiting for them to get their feces together forever, and may back out if it’s clear that civil opposition against the Annexation is strong.
There’s a lot of balls in the air here, and it might be difficult to keep our eyes on them all. But ultimately, they will all come together, so it’s really not as many balls as it looks like. There are a lot of characters, though. That’s something I found rather challenging to keep track of when I was reading the books for the first time, and it’s only marginally less so in this chronological reading, simply because some of those names are starting to stick in my head.
Fortunately, there’s help. You can search any of these names at the Honorverse Fandom Wiki and get a refresher. (Be warned of possible spoilers, though!)
Mostly, these chapters are introducing us to the major players and the situations at hand. It’s enough to make a book in and of itself. I think this section makes it clearer than any other why it was that Weber had to split this into three separate, interlocking series.
Okay; the stage is now set, and we know what’s going on. We have been introduced to all the major characters and we know what their goals and motivations are. And like in any good space opera, we have personal complications to go with the bigger events.
I like the way Honor’s pregnancy is handled. I admit, I groaned a little at the old standby trope of the competent female soldier suddenly finding herself pregnant… but Weber took a different approach than I might have expected. He’s dispensed with the trope of “soldier exceptionally competent in combat but completely useless in real life.” Weber’s obviously spent some time around soldiers. In my experience, the risk-assessment and problem-solving skills that soldiers learn, under conditions designed to be as deliberately stressful as the military can possibly make them, tend to translate to the rest of their lives as well. Soldiers don’t waste time dithering about shit, as so many characters do in stories with similar plot elements. They develop a strategy, then a plan, and then they set about implementing it.
Honor and the Alexanders do just that, when confronted with this unexpected complication. There is reasonable technology available to deal with the problem of how to protect the fetus while the soldier carrying it is in combat, and it’s based on current research (we’ve already grown sheep in artificial wombs, and the long-term assessment of their overall health is going on even now.) And they deal with the personal problems created as directly as they can. This will, of course, be an ongoing subplot, and it does, of course, affect character development of all three involved parents (and again, Mr. Weber, stepfamilies like mine thank you everywhere for immediately and completely making Emily a full partner in parenthood, with little to no concern given to her genetic relationship.) Weber justly is often criticized for his awkward romance writing in earlier books, but there’s nothing awkward about this.
We’ll resume with Chapter 13 of The Shadow of Saganami and Chapter 15 of At All Costs in the next post.